Cellist finds vein of lucre in the ugly rock face of free music streaming

People in the music business make such a fuss about streaming and file sharing that we don’t often hear about artists who see free listening as just another sales tool.

Canadian-born cellist Zoë Keating has posted her online music earnings on Google, helping everyone see how a more-successful-than-average independent pop musician who tours regularly around the world earns money from three albums.

Her net online revenue from those sales is about $81,000, which a solo Canadian classical musician (or small ensemble) could not even dream of. But it does show how someone who is not a household name, who performs in a niche category and who has no label can make a better-than-decent living.

Keating earned a net $46,477.77 from iTunes, $25,000 from Bandcamp and $2,821 from the sale of audio files on Amazon. She also earned $8,352.45 from the sale of physical CDs on Amazon.

These figures are for online only, so they don’t include the sales of physical CDs from her concert gigs.

Keating is, understandably, encouraging about people who stream music for free online, or who share music for free.

“I think Spotify is awesome as a listening service,” she writes. “In my opinion artists should view it as a discovery service rather than a source of income.”

Keating’s attitude mirrors that of the majority of younger listeners, I’m sure. And it certainly puts all the stress that label mangers are under into perspective.

“I do not see streaming as a threat to my income, just like I’ve never regarded file-sharing as a threat but as a convenient way to hear music,” states Keating. “If people really like my music, I still believe they’ll support it somewhere, somehow. Casual listeners won’t, but they never did anyway. I don’t buy ALL the music I listen to either, I never did, so why should I expect every single listener to make a purchase? I think that a subset of my listeners pay for my music, and that is a-ok because — and this is the key — there are few middlemen between us.”

Most musicians don’t want to deal with websites and sales and blogs and all the fiddly stuff that marketing involves, but, as Keating’s income shows, it can pay to get your hands dirty.

You can read Keating’s full Google post here.

John Terauds


4 thoughts on “Cellist finds vein of lucre in the ugly rock face of free music streaming

  1. I’m confused by the lumping-in of streaming services like Spotify (which secures streaming rights with record labels) with file-sharing. File-sharing is illegal, or at best a legal grey area; services like Spotify and Rdio are completely above-board.

  2. I understand that, John — my concern was with the comments on streaming services. I can see why people “in the biz” make a fuss about file-sharing, which is probably illegal, but I can’t understand why any of them would make a fuss over streaming services, which are sanctioned by the record labels themselves.

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